Sunday, November 29, 2009

This Old House

When I was going through Kelsey's things trying to find the right quote to use for her memorial folder, I found a detailed list she had made entitled "Seattle". It was a list of things she needed to do before she could move there. I could tell it was a recent development based on some of the items, but it wasn't the first time she had gotten it in her head to try and get away from here. She had tried to convince me to give her bus fare to Boston at one point, having an online friend who had offered her a place to stay. She had considered Arizona after that, wanting to be closer to her aunt and younger cousins. She had not discussed Seattle with me, probably because I would have said the same things I always said, which all related to how she proposed to live. And I had pointed out more than once that wherever you go, there you are. You can leave the place, but not the disease. It would move with her. Yet, at the same time I understood her compulsion to leave. and a part of me wanted her to make her escape for a number of reasons. I confess that having her somewhere else, particularly as she deteriorated over the last year and Mother took more and more time and attention, was appealing just for my own selfish purposes. But, I also understood the desire to leave the shadow of her adolescence behind and try for a fresh start somewhere. Plus she had a big spirit, and it was being unduly confined here. She had been born and raised in Austin and aside from her time in treatment, she had never lived anywhere else (Round Rock versus Austin does not count - they are essentially different shades of the same color). The problem was that the practicalities outweighed everything else. She had no money and her prospects for being able to go to a new place and find work, shy and unwell, was slim (pardon the Freudian slip). So, to a large extent, she was stuck here. Her list of things she needed to do or pay off before heading off to Seattle was a big dream with little hope of coming to fruition.

Sunday morning as I went outside to put out the deer's food, I looked around me and realized I'm very much in the same situation. I would rather be just about any where but here. I looked up and down the quiet suburban street, hoping no one was peering out their windows back at me in my unfortunately coordinated outfit of slippers, flannel blue pajama pants and brown hoodie and thought how nice it would be to be someplace where no one could see what I wore to feed the various wildlife and where I wouldn't have to worry about the man from down the street driving by and yelling at me for feeding them at all. But, those are minor irritations compared to the house looming behind. This unusual, interesting house that we have occupied for the last 11 1/2 years, much to its detriment, holds way too many memories for my liking. I want to be away from it. I feel as though I am almost a character in a Stephen King story and the house holds me hostage somehow. As it is, I can barely stand going upstairs, and it has fallen into a sad state of dusty disrepair. I had a vague notion of spending some of the long weekend cleaning up there, but I trudged up the stairs once the entire four days and then only when I absolutely could not find what I needed any other way, and with a fair amount of delaying on my part. It's not that I'm scared that I will run into some otherworldly apparition up there, but there are echoes from both girls' pasts that will always be here for me. There is no secret that I've long yearned to go back north as it is. This has always been a place I was hoping to hang my hat temporarily until I could get back to someplace where there are real mountains and actual seasons (as opposed to really hot, spelled briefly by a few weeks of not-so-hot and about two days of actual cold). But now, I feel as though I might suffocate if I cannot get out of here; this place has become oppressive.

Of course, with my mom not in any shape to even make it here for Thanksgiving dinner, let alone be hauled across the country (although she herself almost daily talks about when she'll be moving back east), leaving the Austin area isn't really practical, so, like Kelsey and my mother, I am largely trapped here. However, I reason with myself, we could at least move back into Austin. Maybe back to Hyde Park, where my Sunday morning outfit and matching disheveled hair would be considered Big-Lebowski-Chic and probably admired, along with my Democratic tendencies, as proof of my individualism. Worst case scenario, it would not catch even a sideways glance. And whatever house we lived in would have lots of history, but it would belong to someone else, not me. I would be free to start a new chapter in it. But, these are all wistful thoughts. I am completely and irrevocably stuck here. At least for now.

All these thoughts make me sad. Sadder than I already am. I love this house. As much as I hate it. This house deserves better owners than us. Like our pack of dogs, it suffered as more and more of our resources funneled into other things. Built in 1980, the house needs a consistent level of care that we haven't been able to provide it. There is the break in the septic pipe, there is a hole in our back porch, roots from the ancient and massive oak out back long ago grew through the pipes leading into the house, making the upstairs bathroom unusable except for the sink (a situation we purposefully left untended for years to keep Kelsey from purging up there -not that it was particularly effective). I have popcorn ceilings still, for crying out loud. The list goes on. I do what I can with what I have left, but we have lost pace with the march of time. Without a rather massive infusion of cash or someone with more handyman skills than I possess, time will continue to chip away at this poor old house. Of course, the paradox is that I cannot even realistically think of selling the house without making some of these repairs, but I need to sell the house to be able to afford to make them because, like most of us, it's my biggest investment. See what I mean, Stephen King could not have entangled me any better.

I think the house must hate me for my neglect. Just as I hate it for housing all these memories, even the happy ones from the very early years, because they are so painful to face right now. But I saw two Super Bowl championships come to me from right in this room. I have all my deer here, including my beloved Red, who is named for the Katherine Hepburn character in The Philadelphia Story and who will respond to her name when I call for her. If you look out the windows just right, you can't really tell that you're not in Montana and there aren't mountains past the graceful oak trees that tower over the house. I can meander down to the creek at the back of the property and watch the egrets as they search for fish in the waning light of day, spotlighted by fireflies fluttering in and out of the shadows. How can I leave these things? Maybe the question is, how I can get back to the point where love of those things outweigh the shadows of the other things that passed within these walls?

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